New Google feature worries privacy groups

Privacy advocates are a little worried about a new feature in Google Gmail will mean some users receiving messages from people with whom they have not shared their email addresses.

Google has widened the list of contacts available to Gmail users so it includes both the email addresses of their existing contacts, as well as the names of people on the Google+ social network.

On the plus side, if you excuse the pun, a person can send an email directly to friends, and strangers, who use Google+. The negative means that a person who you not want to get your email address will have it by virtue of the fact they know a friend of yours.

Google is increasingly trying to integrate its Google+, a two-and-a-half-year old social network that has 540 million active users, with its other services. When consumers sign up for Gmail, the company’s Web-based email service, they are now automatically given a Google+ account.

Google said in a statement that the feature will make it easier for people who use both services to communicate with their friends.

“Have you ever started typing an email to someone only to realize halfway through the draft that you haven’t actually exchanged email addresses?” the company said in a blog post announcing the feature. “You’re in luck, because now it’s easier for people using Gmail and Google+ to connect over email.”

A spokesGoogle said that users who did not wish to receive email messages from other people on Google+ could switch the settings so that they receive messages only from people they have added to their networks of friends or from no one at all.

Some privacy advocates have been moaning that Google should have made the new feature “opt-in,” meaning that users should explicitly agree to receive messages from other Google+ users, rather than being required to manually change the setting.